Sarah Harris started out as a casual culinary enthusiast who loved to bake treats for family and friends. In the two years since Harris started Secret Recipe Cakes from her Ridge Manor home, this mom and homemaker figures she has single-handedly crafted more than 200 cakes for clients in Pasco, Hillsborough and the surrounding counties.
"Working on my own here, I make an average of three cakes in one weekend," said Harris, 30, "and as many as eight."
Of course, Harris does have a little help from two young "sous chefs," one of whom has been known to assess a recipe and declare, "I think we need more raisins," before retiring to the living room to watch cartoons.
Whenever Harris bakes a cake, her 3-year-old son, Titus, and a 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Torus, are close at hand.
Aside from sampling mom's homemade treats, Titus is learning to identify ingredients and cooking tools and to stir ingredients into the recipe. Torus counts among her toys miniature whisks, rolling pins and mixing bowls. She has been known to whisk ingredients while Mom watches with a smile.
"I love everything about being a mom. It's an amazing feeling," Harris said. "I had kids and realized I was no longer the most important person in my own life."
When Sarah Chrostowski, a Dade City resident since age 8, married plumber and contractor Marcus Harris six years ago, the premed student decided to put her dreams of becoming a doctor on hold to pursue another dream: becoming a mother and homemaker. Even so, she said, "As a stay-at-home mom, I wanted to do something for myself."
Some of Harris' most precious childhood memories were made in the kitchens of her mother, Arlene Chrostowski, and her grandmother, Jeanette Kingsley, a professional cake decorator who passed away in 2004.
"My mom got me started," Harris said. "We made wonderful things with the recipes she got from her mother and grandmother."
Harris never outgrew her passion for making yummy treats in the kitchen.
"I just love being in the kitchen and seeing what I can create," she said, "I love to create something other people enjoy. It's the best feeling in the world."
After having heart-to-heart discussions with close friends about her strengths and interests, Harris decided a home-based baking enterprise would be the best business for her.
"I started baking cakes for a few friends," she said, "then they started to recommend me to other friends."
More than 200 cakes later, Harris serves a list of clients that range from A Matter of Taste restaurant in Dade City (where she regularly bakes cupcakes and works as a server two days a week) to the Hillsborough County Fire Department. She's been slated to cater a Pasco High School reunion later this year.
Matter of Taste owner Jim Hendry credits Harris with both talent and versatility.
"When she puts her mind to something, she does it," he said, "and she does everything exceptionally."
For private clients she has provided cakes for birthdays, baby showers, weddings and holiday parties.
"At events like these, the cake is the centerpiece," Harris said. "Everything else falls around it."
She has made everything from a classic white buttercream cake with raspberry filling and vanilla bean buttercream icing to a whimsical plants vs. zombies cake, to some maple bacon cupcakes. In this year's Kumquat Festival Recipe Contest, hosted at Betty Cakes in Dade City, she won two honors, claiming first place in the dessert category with Kumquat Cheesecake With Kumquat and Vanilla Bean Glaze, and second place in the side dish category with her Kumquat Stuffing.
Despite being surrounded by all those sweets, Harris has also maintained an award-winning physique, with two first-place wins in a St. Petersburg bodybuilding competition.
"On Sept. 15th, 2011, I won the St. Pete Muscle Classic for Physique Short and Overall Physique," she said.
Harris would love to someday open a cake shop in Dade City, establishing a family business that her children could get involved in as they get older.
Her advice to other moms: Find what inspires you and chart your own course.
"Believe in yourself, and surround yourself with people who believe in you," she said. "Stick with it. You can do it."